I have a body!!

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A finished sweater body, that is:

I was being instructed in posing by M

Of course, I also have a human body! I tend to be the sort of person who lives “in her head”, which has been especially difficult this week, because I’m home with my daughter all day every day, and the creative/thinker/planner/writer part of my mind, the part I most identify with as “me”, is basically throwing a tantrum from the frustration of feeling trapped by the constant demands for attention from a child who both switches gears so quickly that I can never keep up or settle in, and yet is also utterly incapable of switching gears on any timeline than her own. (Oh, the joys of parenting a child who’s differently wired!) It’s getting rather noisy in this brain of mine, and I’ve not had much of an outlet this week! (It’s taken…a lot of time and stolen moments of typing on my phone to actually write a blog post! I started it on Monday!)

But as much as I tend to live in my head, I also cannot forget that I am a person with a body. My body does not let me forget it. And lately I’ve been missing my old body – the body I had before autoimmune connective tissue disease and before bringing M into the world (recovering from 4th degree tearing is no joke, y’all!). It’s not about appearances – I barely look different these days than I did in college, even after having a baby…I’m the same size/shape, just perhaps a bit “softer” in a few places. It’s about what I could do, and how it felt to do those things. How freely I could move, the kind of reckless abandon I could have, deciding on a whim that I’d run an extra 5 miles or run all 22 flights of stairs up to my dorm room because I felt good and why not? Just moving and playing hard without a care.

When I watch things like the World Cup, I miss my old body so much. When I say I used to be an athlete, I mean it. I won my age group by over half an hour in the first marathon I ran, when I was 19. The older women on the informal team I ran with, back in college, were convinced I’d run in the Olympic Marathon Trials. I never got to find out if I could run a qualifying time: I ran a 10k, and then a half-marathon, in times that suggested that I absolutely could go sub-2:48 (which was the qualifying time back then; I don’t know what it is now), but then my health started to fail and it was a few more years before I found out why. But in any case, that’s where I was: winning my age group in every long race I ran, qualifying for Boston by half an hour (and running it twice, once with my dad!), maybe on a path towards the Trials, that sort of thing. An athlete.

so, yeah. [365.283]

Knitter, athlete, person with a disability.

And now, more than a decade later, I’m still strong and still very capable despite the nerve damage and disc damage I incurred in those intervening years. Most people don’t notice that I have a slight limp (my left leg just doesn’t respond quite as quickly as my right). I *never* don’t notice it; it doesn’t usually register as pain, but there’s a difference in sensation, always, and I’m compensating for it a lot (which I first noticed when doing walking meditation). But what I really struggle with now is the certain knowledge that it would be very easy to badly damage my body, and the fear that results from that knowledge. It’s the memory of how bad, how literally disabling the pain can be, too. When I imagine myself running around after a ball like those World Cup players, or running cross country, or doing long jump or hurdles, all these things I used to be able to do, I literally feel an ache in my lower back, the L5-S1 area, and I feel the twinge in my left leg down my sciatic nerve, and the wonky left shoulder blade, and my scar tissue from childbirth, and I think, no, I can’t move that way anymore. I’m probably not wrong about that, but I do wonder what a healthy balance is, and how to tell the difference between taking appropriate caution with an already-damaged and easy-to-injure body and limiting myself due to fear.

Because I do feel limited, and I don’t know which limits are the sort that are possible to push against, and which are the true, hard ones against which fighting is unproductive. I’ve found that I’m much happier when I accept that there are real limits to what my body can do now and don’t keep thrashing against them – I did a lot of damage to myself, both physically and mentally, in the years before I reached that acceptance. “Acceptance” is the mindfulness concept that was hardest for me, but is almost certainly the most useful one to me. But getting there was a hard-won battle. Most people, when they hear about an athlete who has fallen ill or become injured, expect to hear a “redemption” story – there’s this pervasive idea that a “real” athlete will fight towards a comeback at any cost, and it’s the comeback story that’s celebrated. But sometimes there is no “comeback”. There won’t be one in my story, and that’s hard for people to accept…and it was hard for me to accept, too. But the reality is that I have pretty nasty damage in my spine, and my immune system attacks the places where normal wear-and-year happens, instead of healing those places, and that’s a chronic thing. And by fighting that reality, I only made myself sicker and more injured. It was only when I accepted reality for what it was, and decided that the only way to be a happy, healthy, whole person was to stop trying to be a runner, that I was able to stop the cycle of escalating illness.

I’d rather be healthy, even though it means never being a runner again. But it’s always going to be a push and pull, and watching sporting events really pulls me back towards missing what I had. And it breaks my heart a little bit that even in my imagination, I have the bad disc, I have the draggy left leg, I have the wonky shoulder blade, the pelvic floor pain. I can never escape it, even in imagination. And then it becomes a kind of psychological block, when I try to imagine activity that *might* be possible.

I’ve been swimming some this summer, and that’s a great form of non-impact exercise for me, though it seems like I get migraines more than half of the time after a swim, and I’m trying to sort out what’s triggering them – the smell of chlorine? The pressure of goggles? The way I breathe while swimming? I should probably see a neurologist, because that’s starting to become a psychological block, too! The Adaptive Motion Trainer (AMT) machines at the Y are a great way to get non-impact exercise; they allow more freedom of motion than an elliptical machine. And I do a lot of walking, too, though I have to be careful not to overdo it; if I do, I end up kind of dragging my left leg, and in the past, that’s resulted in knee damage.

at rhinebeck! [365x2.128]

A decade ago at Rhinebeck, with my trusty cane

 So that’s why I just can’t ever forget that I have a body. And of course, the recent spate of mass shootings has me thinking about how vulnerable we all are, how very fragile even the strongest body is when faced with tools designed to tear through us.

I’m thinking about how I have a body that is both that of an athlete and that of a person with invisible disabilities. And how while I would never wish the various traumas, injuries, and losses my body has experienced on any other person, it was the two things that most devastated my body – connective tissue disease and childbirth – that led to the most valuable transformation to my way of thinking: acceptance, and mindfulness practice more generally.

And yet even that is complicated. Because the other narrative we love in relation to disability, the one that’s not about the “comeback”, is to imagine that’s it’s actually a blessing, and this gets deployed in ways that can be shaming to those who talk about struggling, or ways that minimize the very real pain, trauma, and loss involved. I’m grateful for the way my mind was opened to acceptance and mindfulness more generally, but I also think there are ways to get there that don’t involve loss, and I don’t think we should ever expect people to feel grateful for loss, even if they’ve been able to learn and grow as a result of it, and are grateful for that learning and growth.

Finished Tric body, from the back

The triangle detail also highlights the part of my body that ended my running career

I’m thinking about bodies, too, because of the conversations about size-inclusivity in the knitting and sewing design worlds, and because I am the mother of a daughter who is already starting to hear harmful messages about bodies, especially women’s bodies, from the world around her, and even from friends her own age. She’s not even 8 years old! She, like me, seems to be growing into a body that’s lean and lanky and wiry…which is, according to most of the messaging we receive in our culture, the “best” kind of body to have. It’s so valued that even when I was at my very sickest in graduate school, and had dropped to under 100 pounds, I was getting compliments *from the nurses* when I was going in for various tests. That’s just completely messed up.

My photographer joins me

This kid. What messages is she getting about bodies?

So my daughter hears from me about taking good care of her body, and I’m careful to divorce talk about health (which we do) from value-laden talk about weight (which we don’t do), but I do wonder how much my counter-messaging will mean to her, coming from a body like mine. Will it sound like empty words?

It’s not that I’ve never been told awful things about my body. I mean, the messages I internalized about being flat-chested were truly damaging – I learned that if someone with my shape is sexually harassed, trying to tell someone about it will result in gaslighting…after all, how could I imagine that anyone would be interested in someone flat-chested like me? And shouldn’t I be grateful for the attention, since obviously girls with my shape don’t warrant it? It’s obvious to me now that those are just different flavors of sexual harassment, and that framing “harassment” in terms of “interest” is super problematic, but I really did internalize the idea that I wasn’t worthy even of harassment, and that I didn’t really “count” as a woman. BUT: I’m not ever going to need to worry about a knitting or sewing pattern not coming in my size – if anything, my size is often the default sample size, though I may need to adjust things like bust darts! I’m also not ever going to need to worry about my size rather than my health being the focus at a doctor’s office, or about being “policed” when I’m out enjoying a meal, and so on. It’s not that people don’t say cruel things about bodies like mine – we REALLY need to stop implying that women without a certain size of breasts or hips are not “real women”, for example – but nothing that is said to people with bodies the size and shape of mine holds a candle to what gets said to those in larger bodies, and whatever challenges I face because of the ways my body diverges from what’s expected of a woman’s body do not even compare to what women with larger bodies are faced with.

My photographer joins me

Goodness gracious, she’s getting tall!

I guess on this front I’m thinking about how I have a body that is simultaneously very privileged in my culture (being thin, white, and heck, I’m even blond) and also seen as unfeminine (because of the lack of curves), and how those things have shaped me. These days, I’m quite happy to have my not-very-curvy body, and it feels right to me; my body and my self-image basically agree, and that’s something I’m grateful for. But I also wonder about how I’ll cope with changes in my body that aren’t related to ability; what if someday the reason I’m missing my old body IS because of appearances? No matter what, my body won’t keep looking basically the same as it did in college; changes will surely come someday, if I live long enough, and I just hope I can face them with grace. I’m also thinking about what role my body, and the social position that bodies like mine occupy, might play in how my voice is heard, and who hears it. I especially think about this in relation to my daughter.

Anyway, these are all thoughts that have been banging around in my brain this summer! (And also, I finished a sweater body, yay!)

Finished Tric body!

(And actually, by the time I actually hit “Publish”, who knows how much MORE sweater I’ll have knit?!)

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hello, August.

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Well, it’s August. Which means that my summer break is just about over. Next week, my daughter doesn’t have any day camp, so it’ll be just the two of us hanging out together all day, every day, and then after that, she’s got 3 weeks of day camp while I need to be back on campus most days for meetings and course prep. And then it’ll be Fall Semester. I love my job, so once the semester gets rolling, it’ll be a different sort of good, but the transition is always rough!

Every summer, I feel like I try to cram in SO MANY THINGS and it never quite works out the way I think it will. There’s only so much one person can do in a day, and especially if that person wants to do those things at the level that I want to do them. I’ve made great progress on the violin pieces I hoped to work on this summer (the Chaconne from Bach’s d-minor Partita being the main one). I finished a pair of mitts, a couple of cowls, my Farmhouse Cardigan and I’m pretty sure I’ll finish Tric before the end of the summer, too (and, as is obvious from most of the posts I linked to above, I’ve also been finding my voice even more here on this blog). I’ve also gotten back into swimming semi-regularly. But the embroidery? I’ve done a bit, but I’m still only halfway through the alphabet on the sampler I picked back up, and have only finished a couple of the Sashiko samples. I’ve not done all that much ukulele practice, either. I’ve started reading too many books to make good progress on any of them. I had grand plans of finishing a couple of sweaters for M, too…the new Elle Melle is 2/3rds finished, at least, but the new Stripes! hasn’t even been cast on! And my new sewing machine is still in the box, because I haven’t managed to clear space for it on my sewing table in the basement, which is still covered with junk from our move. Such is life, especially when you’ve got a hungry, hyperactive brain like mine.

But here’s my progress on Tric since my last post:

Tric Progress

I’ve knit about 4″ of the body, and am well into the waist-shaping and the increases for that great triangle detail in the center back:

Tric progress

The dress I’m wearing today, by the way, is one of the sleeveless dresses that I’m hoping to wear Tric with this fall. It’s got little flashes of bright yellowy green in the leaves of the flower print, so it’ll look great with this bright green sweater!

Tric progress

My teaching wardrobe is a little short on the mid-weight clothing that’s best in the early to middle part of Fall semester (and, if we’re lucky, towards the end of “Spring” semester, which really should be called “Winter” semester!). I think Tric’s going to be a nice transitional piece. Maybe it’ll ease this upcoming transition just a bit, too.

Past the sleeves!

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I’ve now completed the set-in sleeve shaping on Tric, and have separated the sleeve stitches from the body. I also moved it to a needle with a longer cable so that I can more easily try it on as I go. Looking good so far, I think!

I've separated the sleeves on Tric!

Sorry for the low light – it’s a rainy day!

I found the “Helpful Table” portion of the pattern incredibly, well, helpful! It lays out when to do each type of increase required for the sleeves, body, and neckline in a very intuitive (to me, at least!) way.

I've separated the sleeves on Tric!

(a great looking sweater, and a sticker for a great candidate in the background!)

I haven’t mentioned the yarn I’m using for this: it’s Cascade 220 Superwash, which I originally got 8 years ago, in order to make a blanket for my little munchkin, and then…never finished it. Longtime readers probably know I don’t normally knit with superwash wool, especially for something like a sweater for myself!  I don’t like superwash wool for sustainability reasons, and I also know that it tends to “grow” a bit more with blocking than a non-superwash wool. Plus, I just plain like wooly wools! I also don’t care for what I’ve learned about Cascade Yarns’ politics and business practices, and will likely not buy any more yarn from them, though I’ve got quite lot of it in my stash in various forms (mostly regular 220 and Eco Wool). But in any case, I am finding it quite pleasant to knit with, and it feels good against my skin, which is nice because I do plan on wearing this sweater not just over long sleeves in the winter, but also with my sleeveless dresses in the spring and fall.

From the back

The main point of interest in the body of the sweater is a central triangular panel in the back, which will expand outward from that central eyelet column. The stitch pattern in the triangular panel is the same as in the collar; it’s a textured rib pattern and I think it’s going to look lovely on this cardigan.

Set-in sleeve, created seamlessly from the top down in one go.

I really enjoyed creating the set-in sleeve cap; this method is basically a reversal of the bottom-up seamless set-in sleeves that I learned from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s books and used, for example, on M’s Peg+Cat sweater. (Speaking of which, I’d really like to make a me-sized version of that cardigan, perhaps with a few extra little details!)

So, that’s where I am with Tric!

Tric’ing right along, after a hiccup

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So, I ended up ripping out what I’d knit so far of Tric because I wasn’t happy with how the picked-up stitches were looking; the pattern calls for you to edge the right collar with slipped stitches and the left collar with garter stitch, and that just…looked weird, once I’d picked up the stitches. Perhaps Åsa’s method of picking up stitches is different from mine, but the logic behind the different edging wasn’t explained in the pattern, so I just ripped things out and did a garter stitch edge on BOTH sides of the collar, and was much, much happier with how things looked.

Tric looks funny on the needles!

Of course, the neckline is laying a little weird in this photo, but trust me, it looks nice in person.

Why yes, it does look a bit strange on the needles…in fact, my husband joked that it looked like I was knitting some weird sort of bra, and I can’t say he’s wrong about that!

My husband joked that it looked like I was knitting some sort of weird bra!

Not actually a bra! (And much bigger than I’d need, ha!)

It’s really neat to be creating something three-dimensional on a single needle like this, and the way that the sleeve caps and set-in sleeves are created, with a slipped-stitch “faux seam” edge, is really very cool.

Sleeve cap!

I think the fit is looking good so far, too!

Sleeve cap!

I don’t have a long enough circular needle to really try it on properly at the moment; sometime I’ll need to add an extension to the cord on this one and really get a sense of how it will sit, but I’m pretty optimistic about it!

Tric, so far

It’s kind of like a superhero cape at the moment :)

So far, I’m having a lot of fun knitting this, and am still learning a lot. I’m *loving* the “Helpful Chart” section of the pattern, which lays out the sleeve shaping, neck-shaping, and body-shaping directions in a really intuitive row-by-row way. What a brilliant idea! Still plenty more knitting to go before I finish the sleeve shaping, but I bet it won’t take me too long!

The beginning of Tric!

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What is this crazy thing??

The beginning of Tric

Oh, it’s just the beginning of Tric!

The beginning of Tric

What you see so far represents the right-half of the back neck, plus the right shoulder, and a little bit of the left-half of the back neck. It’ll make more sense when you see the next picture:

The beginning of Tric

The “try it on as you go!” aspect of top-down knitting is just a little bit weird at this stage of the process, but it does look like it’s going to fit me well!

This is a very new way of knitting a sweater for me. It’s knit using Åsa Tricosa’s “Ziggurat” technique, and it’s fascinating! I watched the episode of Fruity Knitting where Åsa went into detail about each step of the process, so I have a decent grasp on how it’s all going to go together in the end, but it’s still a little mind-boggling at first.

So far, I’ve already learned a lot of new skills! She has you cast on using the “winding cast-on”, which is a way of casting on that lets you knit outward from either side – perfect for something like the back of a collar. In the photo below, I’m pointing to the center of the back neck, where I first knit outward to the right, and then knit leftward:

The beginning of Tric

In addition to the winding cast-on, I also learned how to do German Short-Rows! I’d heard of them before, but had never actually done them, and Åsa very helpfully includes links to technique tutorials in her pattern, so it was quite easy to learn them and they seem to work really well! I still haven’t quite worked out in my mind HOW they work so well, so sometime I want to think through the stitch geometry a little more, but they’re very cool and super easy.

I also learned how to do Åsa’s version of the crochet cast-on to add those stitches for the right shoulder, and while slipping stitches is not “new” in any way, the way that the inner edge of the collar is created as a tiny bit of double-knitting is brilliant, and I’m totally going to steal the idea the next time I make something that needs a nice edge.

The beginning of Tric!

So far, so good! Soon enough it’ll start looking a bit more like a sweater in these posts, I promise!

Finished Farmhouse Cardigan!

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I was determined to finish this sweater by the end of the week, and I succeeded!

Farmhouse Cardigan

Ravelry Project Page
Pattern: Farmhouse Cardigan
Yarn: Beaverslide Worsted in “Bracken”; about 5 skeins
Needles: Size 8s
Time to knit: a little over a month, but with a couple of weeks off while I was up in Wisconsin

I’m really delighted with how it turned out – and I’m so thrilled that my experiment with double-knit pockets worked well!

Farmhouse Cardigan

I make such dorky faces when I pose for self-timer photos!

The other deviation I made from the pattern was to add a little bit of waist-shaping; I did two pairs of double-decreases, spaced evenly apart from the center back, and then did double-increases to get back to the full width before I reached the underarm. I had a hard time getting a good photo, but you can kind of see them here:

Farmhouse Cardigan

I have a bit of a swayback, and this kind of shaping helps it to “hug” that curve in my spine a bit more when I wear it, instead of ballooning out.

 

Farmhouse Cardigan

That lower button isn’t actually sewn on crooked, I promise!

 

I found the coolest buttons in my drawer-of-random-things, and luckily, I had enough for this cardigan! I sewed them on using the leftover yarn from my green Willow Cowl, which doesn’t *quite* match, but I think it looks nice.

Farmhouse Cardigan

Shorts + Heavy Wool Sweater: kind of an odd look, but it’s hot!

I think this cardigan is going to be really great come winter; it’ll look nice with all of my grey tops, but also with some of the greens and light blues that I tend to wear, too.

Farmhouse Cardigan

And it matches my eyes, too!

Farmhouse Cardigan

I’ve already cast on for my next sweater, but you’ll have to wait til tomorrow for a post about that!

so many ideas, so little time!

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So, remember how yesterday I wrote about how the logic of brioche + double knitting was starting to click for me? Well, that click was enough for my creative brain to start churning out idea upon idea of how I could combine the two in knit designs, so I just had to get out some scrap yarn (this is spare Beaverslide Sport/Sock weight) and play for a bit:

Just playing around

The idea that came to my mind first was a brioche-stitch cardigan with a double-knit hem, cuffs, collar, and button band. My swatching tells me what I already knew – there will have to be some major stitch-count changes from hem to body for that to work, but a double-knit button band, knit along with the cardigan, would be quite easy. I still have a little bit of playing around to do in terms of how wide I’d want to make it, and how to incorporate neat-looking buttonholes, but I think it would be awesome!

Just playing around

I’m imagining this in TWO colors – a reversible cardigan!

Of course, the very next idea that popped into my brain is that such a cardigan could be completely reversible…and that if two-color brioche + double-knitting were used rather than a single color, you could have two DIFFERENT cardigans in one!

And then my brain thought about doing a pullover instead of a cardigan (I’d have to learn how to brioche in the round, since I don’t currently know how to do that!) and making a reversible 2-color brioche pullover with double-knit polka dots or stars. OMG, wouldn’t that be so cool?

And just like that, my brain had planned 3-4 sweaters. Which is both really cool, and also really NOT cool, because brioche + double-knitting is quite time-consuming and time? There really is not enough of it in the day for all of the ideas my brain likes to come up with.

Speaking of ideas and plans, shortly before our trip to Wisconsin, I got the Strange Brew book, and y’all, it is SO GREAT. The yoke recipes make my yoke-loving designer brain so happy, and are giving me a lot of ideas about how I might be able to adjust my Octopus Yoke design to make it a pattern that I could publish in multiple sizes! And I think it’ll be useful for thinking through the sizing if I ever actually publish the top-down Stripes! cardigan (last seen here) as a pattern in multiple sizes, too! (Again though: when?? There’s less than a month before my schedule starts ramping up again in anticipation of Fall Semester!)

I just got this book and it is making my yoke-sweater loving heart so happy and filling my brain with ideas for what I could do differently if I ever do want to publish a pattern for the Octopus Yoke sweater or other designs. The yoke design “recipes” and

And the patterns in the book are fantastic, too. I’m especially enamored with Compass, and I think that instead of knitting Rusty Tuku with my Juniper Beaverslide Sport/Sock yarn (plus the leftovers from Vita de Vie), I’ll probably knit Compass. And I also really like Icefall, and could make one from the cone of Bartlettyarns sport weight in dark brown that I picked up the last time I was at Rhinebeck, plus one or more of the miniskein sets I picked up there. So there’s another two sweaters my brain is already planning for me, in addition to the possible reknits of the Octopus Yoke and the Stripes! cardigan. Oh, brain, you overwhelm me!

The next sweater on my needles, though, is going to be Tric by Åsa Tricosa, because I’m determined to try that new sweater construction technique before the summer is over. And I have the whole list of other sweaters that I was planning before this summer started, too. OMG. Too many sweater ideas!

Oh, and there’s one more thing that’s making my brain brim with ideas…

I have a new sewing machine!!!

I’ve been saving up for a new sewing machine for awhile, because my old one hasn’t been working (remember all the hand-sewing I’ve had to do?), and even when it WAS working, it was not a very pleasant one to sew on. I read a bunch of reviews, asked friends, decided on the Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 and then got very lucky to find that it was on sale last week, so I got it! I still need to clear some space down in our basement for my sewing table (the table is set up, but it has boxes and other junk piled on top of it!) but then I’m going to try to really learn how to sew, hopefully starting with a Dress No. 1 (or several). I know I have the pattern, but I’m not sure where it ended up after I move, so I’m going to look for it for awhile and if I don’t find it, I’ll just order another copy – I don’t mind giving Sonya Philip a little more of my money!

So anyway, that’s where my brain is…absolutely full to the brim with ideas, and definitely not enough time to make them all happen as fast as my brain wants them to. Deep breaths, self. The ideas will keep. (I hope.)